Final Version (May 2021) of “A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula”

Note from the Editor: Posted below are the introductory portions of the Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula (final version). From the main body of the Plan itself we have included the Executive Summary and some definitions. A link to the complete Bioregional Framework (final version) can be found at the end of this post.

A remarkable addition to the final version is the RECOGNITION OF W̱SÁNEĆ HISTORY, CULTURE, AND TERRITORY contributed by Tiffany Joseph, Joni Olsen and Justin Fritz (with permission of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council) and included here. Both this addition, included here, and the main (bureaucratic) document refer to the relationship between the human community and the nature that surrounds it.



W̱SÁNEĆ (hw-say-nitch) means the “emerging people,” Saanich is the anglicized form of W̱SÁNEĆ. The Saanich Peninsula, its municipalities, and the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition are all named after the W̱SÁNEĆ people and territory. The creator, XÁLS (xhails), bestowed teachings for the W̱SÁNEĆ people to care for the territory by respecting the land, the water, each wind, each species, and each person, as a relative. XÁLS transformed many beings in the territory into stone as reminders to the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples of the laws of the land. Starting at the north end of the Peninsula, ṮEUWEṈ (tlow-ung), there is a site where XÁLS, the creator, transformed a being into stone. Along the shoreline on the west side of the Peninsula you pass through ḴEUḴEUET (kow-kow-it), a place of drumming. W̱SÍḴEM (hw-sigh-kem), known as Patricia Bay, is a village that used to be full of clams for harvesting. Here you can find two creeks, TELÁW̱EṈ (tuh-lay-hwung) and ȾEṈTEN (ts-ung-tin), which were important salmon spawning creeks, and were shortcuts from the inlet to the Salish strait. On the east side of the Saanich Peninsula is ḰELSET (quell-sit), the mouth of Reay Creek at Bazan Bay. ḰELSET was full of XIW̱E (xhee-hwuh) and SQIȾI (squee-tsee) (purple and green sea urchins). Westward to ȽAU,WELṈEW̱ (lhay-well-ngehw) mountain and further to KEXMIṈEN (kuxh-meeng-un), also known as Hagan Bight, this was a harvesting site for barestem desert parsley, a sacred medicine for W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. South east is ȾIKEL (tsee-kel), known today as Maber Flats, it was a bog full of a wide variety of medicines and fibers for making rope, mats, and baskets. Southward is the location of SṈIDȻEȽ (sngeet-kwulh), Tod Inlet, the place of blue grouse. SṈIDȻEL is known to be the first village of the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples where SȽEMEW̱ (slh-um-oohw), the first man, came down from the sky. W̱MÍYEŦEN, the Highlands, are prominent hunting grounds. The W̱SÁNEĆ people have advocated for the preservation and responsible management of W̱SÁNEĆ, since the arrival of settlers.

According to written history, in 1852, Douglas met with the W̱SÁNEĆ to create a treaty in order to access timber and open a saw mill in Cordova Bay. This treaty states that the W̱SÁNEĆ sold their land to the ‘white man forever’ and in exchange the W̱SÁNEĆ people would be able to “hunt over the unoccupied lands, and to carry on our fisheries as formerly.” W̱SÁNEĆ oral history tells us, instead, that James Douglas and the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation entered into a Peace and Friendship Treaty in response to a number of significant events. These events include the encroachment/timber extraction by employees of James Douglas near the village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE (Cordova Bay), the shooting of a W̱SÁNEĆ boy by a settler near Mount Tolmie, and threats W̱SÁNEĆ peoples had made against James Douglas and Fort Victoria in response to the above. In 1852, James Douglas met with W̱SÁNEĆ peoples to remedy these concerns and gestured out to the land in recognition of W̱SÁNEĆ’s ownership of their territory. The agreement held that settlers and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples would continue to live on these lands with respect for one another. This did not occur. When ȾIKEL, which means bog/swamp, was drained, late Cecelia Elliott, shook her head and stated: “This place will be no more good to us.”

In retellings of this story, JSIṈTEN shares that his grandmother expressed that the settlers didn’t know what they were doing, and by doing this they would be wiping out all the medicines and the animal habitat within the wetland. Each development that was built around a creek, disappointed the W̱SÁNEĆ people. When creeks were changed to ponds W̱SÁNEĆ people knew this would confuse the fish, stating that “the salmon aren’t going to come back.” With agricultural land protections and agricultural pollutants, W̱SÁNEĆ peoples’ ability to revitalize their food systems is limited. Agricultural lands have destroyed the wetlands, forests, and beaches that were fundamental to W̱SÁNEĆ health and culture.

The written version of the Douglas Treaty is a direct breach of W̱SÁNEĆ law. As previously mentioned, the W̱SÁNEĆ people have obligations to the land, water, and all living things, these have been given to them by XÁLS the Creator: “I, ṮÁU, ȻENS QENT E TŦE SĆÁLEĆE LÁ,E TOL” (“You will also look after your Relatives”). W̱SÁNEĆ obligation to fulfill the laws given to us by XÁLS could not have been superseded by any treaty made with James Douglas. The story of the great flood emphasizes the need to uphold W̱SÁNEĆ law. Years ago, the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples forgot the teachings of XÁLS, who then caused the water to rise. To survive, W̱SÁNEĆ ancestors boarded their canoes, tying themselves to an arbutus tree at the top of ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ (Mount Newton) with a large cedar rope. As the flood subsided, the peak of ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ emerged, and the survivors were able to make it safely back to dry land. They then gathered around the cedar rope and gave thanks and stated, we are W̱SÁNEĆ, the emerging people.

Acknowledging W̱SÁNEĆ territory, people and history is acknowledging W̱SÁNEĆ people as caretakers of the forests, streams, meadows, beaches, mountains, springs and wetlands. Taking action on the ideas laid out in this Bioregional Framework, is an opportunity to support and respect W̱SÁNEC peoples, history, values and future.1,2 

Here, at the scale of the Saanich Peninsula, the place we inhabit day to day, we can learn so much from the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Their memory and knowing is a great gift in finding a way forward that creates healthy communities and ecosystems. We thank Tiffany Joseph, Joni Olsen, their colleagues, and through them the W̱SÁNEĆ people, for their guidance and help in creating the Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula.


[1] We would like to acknowledge Joni Olsen, Tiffany Joseph, and Justin Fritz for their work in producing this acknowledgment.

[2] With permission, aspects of this intro are taken verbatim from: W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council. (2019, October 13). Amendments to Cordova Bay Local Area Plan.


Executive Summary


The natural environment is an integral part of and driving force behind the culture, economy and well-being of the Saanich Peninsula.

During the Sidney Summit on Habitat and Environment in November 2018, there was a broad consensus that more could be done to support the health of the environment. Emphasis on collaborative action sparked the idea of developing a Bioregional Framework to support a Peninsula-wide approach to the environment.

To this end, the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition formed to develop a Bioregional Framework outlining a holistic approach to environmental health and management and to advocate for its adoption across the Saanich Peninsula. 

We recognize that this holistic approach needs to include W̱SÁNEĆ people, relationships, teachings, and responsibilities to all living and non-living things.

The Bioregional Framework is defined by a vision of ecological sustainability:

In respectful collaboration with the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation, the municipalities of
Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Sidney recognize the rich and interconnected ecology of the Saanich Peninsula Bioregion and commit to work together to foster a healthy and sustaining environment for the future.

To achieve this vision of ecological sustainability, the Framework is composed of three distinct, but interrelated principles:

Ecosystem Integrity, Jurisdictional Collaboration,
Community Perspective

Within each principle a central outcome and multiple sub-outcomes are identified that are required to fulfill the broader vision.

Implementing the Bioregional Framework is an involved process that can be approached in diverse ways. Based on conversations with municipal staff, local organizations, the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, and the public, we identified specific strategies and recommendations that we believe will be the most effective in supporting a holistic approach to ecological sustainability.


1. Integrate the Bioregional Framework into the Official Community Plans (OCPs) of Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Sidney. 

2. Detail a clear implementation plan to fulfill the desired outcomes of the Bioregional Framework. As part of this we recommend that a municipal staff report on the feasibility of the plan’s recommendations be included in the plan itself.

3. Establish a Peninsula-wide Environmental Advisory Council of elected and appointed members to guide the implementation of a Bioregional Framework and highlight environmental considerations.


Several of the key recommendations are listed here, with all recommendations listed at the conclusion of this report.

Ecosystem Integrity:

1. Perform a gap analysis of municipal policies relative to best practices.

2. Update the guidelines for Development Permit Areas (DPA).

3. Pursue appropriate policy measures to protect natural shorelines.

Jurisdictional Collaboration:

1. Formalize Peninsula-wide meetings between jurisdictions to discuss ecological sustainability.

2. Employ an environmental specialist to work with Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Sidney. 

Community Perspective:

1. Support public education regarding the values, culture, and traditional knowledge of the W̱SÁNEĆ people

2. Host a biennial summit on the environment.

3. Support community education and engagement.



For the purposes of this document, the following terms are defined.:

Ecosystem: (a) An interdependent and self-sustaining grouping of living organisms together with the territory they inhabit or (b) A dynamic unit characterized by specific interactions of living organisms and living organisms with their abiotic environment.

Ecosystem Integrity: The maintenance of the structure and function of ecosystems, with particular attention to biodiversity, ecological function, and resilience.


Structural Connectivity:The interaction of landscape features.

Functional Connectivity: The extent to which the movement of living organisms and natural processes is aided by landscapes.

Ecological Corridors: A specific geographic region that facilitates ecological connectivity.

Natural Assets: Natural features that carry out services necessary for the sustainability of a population.

Bioregion: A region determined by uniformity of environmental characteristics such as climate, landform, distribution of non-human (natural) species, not by political or administrative relations.

Jurisdiction(s): A general descriptor, inclusive of the Tsartlip/W̱JOȽEȽP, Tseycum/WSIḴEM, Tsawout/SȾÁUTW, and Pauquachin/BOḰEĆEN First Nations, as well as Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney.


References to the terms defined above can be found in the complete “Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula”


Link to the complete final version of A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula


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